By the time Those Darlins hit the stage I was two bourbons and a beer in. I wasn’t doing this casually- it was in keeping with the vibe of the band, who have on many occasions (and in various songs) mentioned the brown magic. Anyway, the bourbon helped me enjoy the rollicking good time the Darlins provided- but it wasn’t enough. When I saw the Darlins in January I was pleasantly surprised by their “we don’t give a damn attitude” because their country-punk songs were inspired, cute and furiously played. This time around that same attitude didn’t make up for the over-instrumentation of the new songs.
Granted, there were some sound issues and Nikki couldn’t play her ukulele for the majority of the set- which is too bad because her instrument is a big part of what makes Those Darlins so interesting. But also the dudes who produced their debut album, which sadly is overproduced, played with them at Southpaw, adding saxophones, vibes and keyboards. It was over the top and completely unnecessary. It drowned the Darlins. Luckily, the band’s manager told me these guys were only playing this one show, because they (including Jeff Curtin who produced Vampire Weekend) live in Brooklyn.
The first song they played was a short and rock and roll-in instrumental. Jessi and Kelley took call and response solos and they totally tore the place down with groovy hooks and loud sassy sound. It was a killer opener. They made their way through a few covers and most of the songs on the new album and there was nothing really wrong with the set. They were having fun and certainly the crowd was too. There was one girl with huge corkscrew curls who couldn’t stay off the stage, it was extremely annoying to me but it seemed like Nikki, who commands with only a microphone for a few songs at the end of the show, didn’t mind, so I guess that’s what matters. But the firespark that was there in January wasn’t really catching on Friday night.
Speaking of Nikki- she is what makes the band ooze sex, which is both a good and bad thing. On the one hand, she’s super hot and has the voice of a pool-hall vixen that can lure any person in and make them beg. But on the other hand, it’s easy to think that some people may be drawn to the band purely because of how the Darlins look, which is too bad because they have tons of potential. Even the Times said in their review of Thursday’s show at the Mercury Lounge: “In part it’s pixie spectacle that has helped Those Darlins gain notice,” wrote Jon Caramanica, who then continued with a break-down of what each Darlin was wearing. When Nikki was singing into the microphone, angling her body into the audience and calling people on the stage, dudes were on her likes flies on shit.
It should be said that Jessi Darlin seems very serious. She doesn’t joke and flirt like Nikki, she plays and sings and smiles but doesn’t get too involved with the fans. Kelley Darlin does most of the talking, thanking this person and that person, and also has the fiercest licks of all three ladies.
Overall the feeling in the air was that of, “don’t worry be happy,” and “let’s party,” which is good for a show, especially a country music show. When the Darlins sang their widely-hailed for being SO down-home track, “Whole Damn Thing,” the subject of the song, a chicken, appeared in full costume on the stage, kicking over cups of bourbon and diving into the audience. It was funny at first, but the chicken stayed the chicken for the whole set and was eventually just an eye-sore.
The So So Glos opened the show and were so punk-rock I couldn’t believe it. I haven’t seen a current band take up the anti-corporate flag like this in years. “Fuck the FCC,” they screamed over surf-guitar and punk bass lines. It was rockin’ and it felt awesome. Turns out these guys are bros from Bay Ridge (of course they’re original Brooklyn-ites) who are the founders of the Market Hotel and still actually live there. RIGHT ON.
Those Darlins say their shows are not shows but rather, parties. So fair enough. Any party will have some assholes in attendance, a slight misstep in the playlist, and a lot of booze, which is key.